Thrills from a trio

REVIEW / CONCERT

TCHAIKOVSKY & ARENSKY PIANO TRIOS

Incursion Trio

Esplanade Recital Studio

Tuesday

Some chamber groups are well known for the chamber music genres which they perform, among them the T'ang Quartet (string quartet) and Take Five (piano quintet). More recently, EDQ (wind quintet) has also made a name for itself.

Now meet Incursion Trio, comprising the husband-and-wife pair of Siew Yi Li (violin) and Beatrice Lin (piano) and its new member Lin Juan (cello).

Based on Tuesday's concert, one can expect it to become a force to be reckoned with - that is if the trio get to perform regularly.

The coupling of piano trios by Romantic Russian composers Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Anton Arensky is not uncommon on CD recordings. In concert, however, it is tough on the musicians. The pianist never stops to rest.

On this count, Beatrice Lin was a pillar of strength. Besides being spot-on technically, she had both power and projection, fuelled by seemingly limitless reserves.

Here, the piano becomes de facto leader and it was easy for the Steinway grand to have totally dominated the strings. Thankfully, this was not the case, as both Siew and Lin Juan were just as resolute, possessed big tones and threw in their lot without reserve.

The opening to Arensky's First Piano Trio In D Minor was delivered with such vividness and clarity that it was hard to mistake its nostalgia and melancholy. The skittish Scherzo proved more of a struggle. Its tricky rhythms dogged the players and not all the jokes came off as slickly as planned.

This was forgotten in the elegiac slow movement, achingly beautiful as it unabashedly bared its brooding Russian soul. The finale was a show of passion, its surge of adrenaline stemmed only by a return of the first movement's haunting theme. This sense of deja vu literally stops one's thoughts in their tracks, a highly effective plot device that was to be repeated in the Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio In A Minor, which plays for more than 45 minutes, is one of the monuments of the trio repertoire.

Composed in memory of piano virtuoso friend Nikolai Rubinstein, who had previously rejected his First Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky was to ironically craft a longer work that is even more taxing for the pianist.

The trio more than coped with its longueurs, especially the repetitious first movement which was delivered with seriousness, tinged with typically Tchaikovskyan sentimentality. Lin's opening cello plaint could not have been better rendered.

The second movement's inventive Theme & Variations, another long movement, was so imaginatively coloured that time just flew past. There were variations in a style of a music box, a waltz, an elegy within an elegy and a mazurka, which all culminated in a busy fugue.

The breathless last variation served as a long finale and the first movement's theme returned, now as a plodding funeral march.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Thrills from a trio'. Print Edition | Subscribe